Weapons ban: Keep them out of criminals’ hands, some say

2008-03-04 00:00

The controversial amendment proposed for the Dangerous Weapons Act, which will outlaw carrying all harmful weapons in public places, including everything from stun guns to flick-knives and even catapults, has split public opinion firmly down the middle.

Some are for it, saying South Africa is already one of the most violent places on earth; others are against it, saying that the proposals will never work and add more red tape to police duties.

The list of “dangerous weapons” includes stun guns; CO2 guns; pellet guns; toy guns; catapults; pangas; cattle prods; batons; ninja stars; bows and arrows; spearguns; blowpipes and darts; slingshots; swords; bayonets; spears; daggers; knuckle knives; throwing blades; tonfas; any knife with a blade longer than 10 cm, and “any other article made or modified to cause physical harm”.

Pepper guns have been excluded, at this point, according to the Safety and Security Ministry.

“The ban will be good,” feels Margie van Zyl, CEO of the Pietermaritzburg and District Council for the Care of the Aged (Padca). “Often it is the most vulnerable members of the community who carry such weapons, such as the old, or women, or the disabled, but they are easily overwhelmed by their attackers and the weapons fall into the wrong hands and can be used against them.”

“The ban will be useless,” says Chris Neubauer of gunsmiths Reford and Bresler. “They’ve spent billions on the new Firearms Control Act, but shootings just keep going up. If they can’t control firearms, how on earth are they going to control catapults and flick-knives?”

Lifeline and Rape Crisis director Debbie Harrison says her organisations try to promote a society that rejects all forms of violence. “The reality for many of the women we counsel is a very unsafe, scary world where their lives are in real danger. We would enthusiastically support a South Africa in which any form of self-defence weapon was not required.

“At this stage pepper spray is not on the list and this is the defence of choice for many women. We hope this will not be added to the list until such time as the security services of our country can reasonably guarantee most women and children a safe environment.”

Fay Buckley, a pensioner who lives with her husband at Woodgrove, says she no longer has the gas gun she used to carry. “I didn’t know how to use it anyway and most elderly people don’t know how to use such weapons.”

Director Selby Bokaba of the SAPS Legal Services said the prohibitions in the notice amount to “basically anything that’s not a firearm, yet could cause some kind of harm”, but added that the amendment is still in draft form and “far from final”.

The proposals have not yet caused a run on arms and camping supply stores, although there has been an increase in queries about pellet guns and pepper sprays, says Keegan Walters of Bush & Bundu. “People are nervous and want to get some sort of weapon before they’re banned.”

Ashwin Bhana, a director of Royal Smokers, agrees.

“It’s a tricky situation, and customers are asking to see gas and stun guns that they’ve never used before.”

Toy guns are also on the list. The manager of a large toy store said he didn’t want to comment before the draft is finalised, but said that banning toys is “difficult and time-consuming, whether they are guns or dolls”.

Lihle Cwinya of Gun Free SA in KZN said: “It would be a good thing if they banned toy guns; they … teach them to be violent … parents should not allow their children to play with them,” she said.

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